Jewish Power claims another victim
Patricia Garcia, publisher of the Ann Arbor Observer, felt the ire of the Jewish community and capitulated to their demand that the Observer refuse to re-run our 2015 advertisement urging attendance at our vigils. Last May we reported that we were going to test the range of Jewish Power by attempting to run the ad, in spite of sidewalk taunting by synagogue congregant Victor Lieberman.
Well, the votes are in and Jewish Power is ahead 1-0. In a brief conversation with this writer, Ms. Garcia admitted (a) she wasn’t Jewish and (b) she’s not politically active. She apologized for her decision, but piqued my curiosity when she said “It’s clear your demonstrations are more closely aligned with hate than with peace”
Me: What makes you say we’re hateful?
Garcia: You stand in front of a house of worship
Me: If it’s a house of worship, why do they fly a foreign flag in their sanctuary?
Garcia: I don’t want to debate with you. I’ve made my decision and it’s final
Certainly the AAO didn’t characterize our vigils as hateful when they published James Militzer’s “Sacred Ground: The Israel-Palestine conflict in Ann Arbor” in the Observer in May, 2006. In any event, Garcia alluded to a group who approached her after our ad ran last year, but could not say whether Victor Lieberman was part of that group or not. Since we’re in possession of a letter he sent to John Hilton, editor of the Observer, we hold a strong suspicion that Lieberman played a defining role in her decision to cave to Jewish demands.
In newspaper parlance the “firewall” is commonly defined as “the once inviolate barrier between newspapers’ editorial and advertising missions.” Since Lieberman wrote his communication to editor John Hilton, we contacted him, too, but he invoked the firewall to prevent his possible overriding of the decision of Advertising. OK, we get it, and Mr. Hilton – although he didn’t want to meet in person – was kind enough to allow me to explain in writing the falsehoods contained in Lieberman’s words. Everybody’s kind when they hold the keys. But how the publisher of an otherwise fine publication can claim to be politically neutral, yet makes a political decision is a question that troubles us.
We present to readers Lieberman’s letter to Hilton and my response after signature. As always, it’s yours to judge.
Blogger highlights our Rudy
Internationally known blogger Linh Dinh (Postcards from the End of America) was scheduled to stand vigil with us last month, but a delayed flight prevented his appearance. He was, however, able to spend considerable time with our stalwart vigiler, and was impressed enough in Rudy’s history to blog about him.
Jewish Witnesses for Peace and Friends
America First … Trump!
Letter from Lieberman to AAO Editor John Hilton:
Dear John Hilton,
It has been reported that the group which has picketed worshipers at Beth Israel synagogue every sabbath for the past 13 years has purchased an ad in the Ann Arbor Observer inviting others to join their picket.
This group is composed of hard-core anti-Semites. One leader explained his motivation to me in these precise words on June 9, 2012: “Yes, I’m an anti-Semite. I hate Jews. Whatever happened to them in World War Two they brought on themselves. They deserved everything they got.” Two others explained more recently that the Holocaust never happened, and that Jews themselves built the gas ovens after the war ended. These sophisticates have also told me straight-faced that Jews planned and directed the attacks of 9/11. These sorts of venomous insults are hurled weekly at worshipers about whose personal political opinions the picketers know absolutely nothing and whose only offense is that they are religious Jews.
I see no principled difference between this group and the Ku Klux Klan. Would you allow the KKK to recruit members in The Observer? This picket of a house of worship has been condemned by virtually every Christian and Muslim pastor in Ann Arbor, by the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice, by the mayor, the City Council, and every agency of goodwill. Group hatred is not what Ann Arbor stands for. And it should have no place in your pages. I urge you to cancel the ad.
(Prof.) Victor Lieberman
member, Beth Israel Congregation
Our Response to Lieberman’s letter:
August 26, 2016
Thanks for allowing me this opportunity to address some issues. This is a response to the allegations Victor Lieberman has leveled against our vigil (protest) group which has appeared on the sidewalks next to Beth Israel Congregation every Saturday morning for 13 years. I have attached the memo addressed to you and signed by him as reference.
He calls members of our group (currently Jewish Witnesses for Peace and Friends, JWPF) “hard-core anti-Semites.” And buttresses his claim from the sarcastic words I said to him, in a successful attempt to get him to stop his taunting: “admit it, the only reason you’re out here is because you hate Jews.”
Did I say those words he claims I did? Technically, yes, but as the boss says to a late-arriving employee “Aren’t we getting to work early today?” he means just the opposite, and so did I. When I read those words which Lieberman took out of the true context in an article written by him in the September, 2015 issue of the Washtenaw Jewish News, I penned a short reply to Editor Susan Ayer. My response was neither acknowledged nor printed by her:
September 26, 2015
Dear Ms. Ayer,
To clear up any misunderstanding between our group and the local Jewish community, neither I nor anyone in our group believes that Jews “deserved” the suffering they experienced during World War II in Europe.
Jewish Witnesses for Peace and Friends
In March of this year I penned a similar clarification to my attorney, John Shea, and copied Lieberman. As with Susan Ayer, I’ve received no acknowledgment by him.
Returning to his claim that some of us are anti-Semites … My response: Absolutely not. I love my sister, her children, my cousins and their children and grandchildren. Three Jewish members of JWPF have died in the last 13 years: Sol Metz, Larry Hochman, Rachel Persico, two of whom I was extremely close with. Marcia Federbush lies in the Glacier Hills rehab unit as we speak; members of our group visit her regularly. We remain friends with Alan Haber and Barbara Stohler-Schalk, Jews who vigiled only once with us. To paint us as anti-Semites is just ludicrous.
Lieberman twists the words of my colleagues as well in regards to their views on the historical narrative of the Holocaust and to the attacks of 9/11. Lieberman typically conflates gas chamber with cremation ovens which were built and used by the Nazis. All historians now regard the gas chambers exhibited at Dachau concentration camp to be post-war reconstructions. And books, like Solving 9-11 by Christopher Bollyn, do in fact suggest Israeli involvement in those attacks. Personally, I have read many Holocaust revisionist texts, and plan to continue to do so. I don’t think we should be criticized in our attempts to educate ourselves about the past.
We do not hurl venomous insults at Beth Israel congregants. This is simply not true and Observer readers know this from reading the article on our group by James Militzer in May, 2006. Ryan Stanton of the Ann Arbor News also featured our group in an article three years ago; hurling insults of any kind were absent from both articles. When challenged, especially by name-callers like Lieberman (I’ve made videos), we do respond, but we never initiate contentious dialogue. Lieberman knows better than to make this false claim; he does it anyway.
Lieberman is wrong again when he writes that we know absolutely nothing about congregants’ political views. Rabbi Rob Dobrusin wrote an Op-ed in the Ann Arbor News on Jan. 14, 2007, in which he said: “there is one general statement which I can make on behalf of the congregation – Beth Israel Congregation affirms without any hesitation or equivocation the legitimacy of the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish state…” On the most important issue – Israel’s “right” to exist as a Jewish state – we know exactly what views the congregants hold.
Lieberman is correct to state that many groups have stood against us, and in some cases we know why. For instance, we have the letter penned by BIC congregant Barry Gross to our City Council in 2004, where he tells Mayor Hieftje: “The time when your silence was acceptable is long past. The 470 family units in our congregation virtually all live in Ann Arbor. We are avid voters. We are watching closely for your response.” Unfortunately, the Mayor and Council abdicated their sworn duty to uphold the Constitution of the United States and passed a resolution condemning the exercise of our First Amendment rights; simply put, they yielded to pressure from the Jewish community.
Perhaps Lieberman projects some self-contained guilt when he likens our peaceful vigils to the KKK. It is his country Israel who, like the white supremacists in the KKK, represent a Jewish supremacist state in Palestine.
John, two things in closing. One, I learned my lesson: Never use irony with an opponent; they’ll use your literal word against you. Two, I recognize that this may appear to you as some he-said, she-said internal strife, but my point is that outside organizations should not play a role in whose voice gets to be heard. As we talked about on the phone, I’m not looking for you to override Patricia’s decision not to run our ad. What’s done is done. But I do hope that you and I, the Observer and JWPF, can work together in the future.